This is not an average Kerry side. In fact a strong argument can be made that it is, even by the lofty standards of the Kingdom, an excellent side.
The trophy cabinet in recent years is perhaps not quite as crammed as previous generations have left it, but a glance at their team sheet for Sunday’s Division 1 league final against Dublin tell its own story.
Experienced (and in-form) stalwarts such as Kieran Donaghy and Bryan Sheehan are complemented by the fire of youth in the form of Fionn Fitzgerald and Stephen O’Brien, and as their recent demolition of the nascent Roscommon attests, they are capable of devastating an opponent with such trademark assurance that it has become the preserve of Kerry, and Kerry alone.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice has been a more than capable strategist during his tenure and rightly received the lion’s share of praise directed Kerry’s way following their All-Ireland triumph two years ago. That was after all a Kerry team, shorn of the irrepressible Colm Cooper and widely written off before the championship had even begun.
His managerial nous is further exemplified by his redeployment of Paul Murphy as a half forward throughout the league. Murphy’s ability to track back to do the ‘dirty work’ has added a dimension to Kerry’s game they were clearly bereft of last September.
Bearing in mind that Anthony Maher and former Player of the Year James O’Donoghue are expected to be welcomed back come championship, and Kerry’s pedigree becomes obvious.
And all this without mentioning the Gooch, Colm Cooper. The Dr. Crokes sharpshooter has been the talk of the Kingdom in recent weeks. His apparent ascendancy to the potency of summers past should warm Kerry hearts and warn those of their rivals.
So, I hear you ask, explain the paucity of silverware. Kerry’s All-Ireland win in 2014 (a championship in which Dublin didn’t darken their door) is their sole Sam Maguire since 2009, on Sunday they contest their first league final in the same timeframe and while they have won the last three Munster Championships, Cork’s recent relegation to Division 2 tells a significant part of that story. The answer lies in the shape of their opponents, Dublin.
Dublin supporters are hardly used to basking in the reflected glory of a team as comprehensively dominant as the capital’s current charges. Incredibly, their All-Ireland win in 2011 was their first appearance in the September showdown in 16 years, and 1983 was their only other All-Ireland triumph since 1977.
Such a history adds weight to the claim that this may be the county’s greatest team of all time, inarguably their greatest since Heffo’s swashbuckling army swept the capital, back when ‘Kerry hurling’ was an oxymoron and the term ‘blanket defence’ was meaningless.
Just as that fabled side of the 1970s redefined Gaelic football in the capital, Jim Gavin’s charges have themselves been innovators supreme, so comprehensively have they pushed the boundaries of modern Gaelic football. Never before has a goalkeeper so extensively dictated a team’s play, nor has a team boasted defenders as integral to a team’s offensive capabilities as James McCarthy and the now departed Jack McCaffrey.
But it is in the forward division that Dublin truly shine. Their ability to work together, exchange positions at will and lay siege to the opposition’s goal is a joy to behold. Any one of their forwards starting on Sunday could be singled out for special praise, and perhaps the greatest testament to them is that a player of Kevin McManamon’s undoubted class must make do with a place on the bench.
This is the team that have won three All-Irelands in the last five years. This is the team to have won a scarcely believable ten of the last eleven Leinster titles. And crucially, this is the team that has meant the current Kerry crop can’t, in terms of silverware at least, truly label themselves as Kerry greats. Not real greats, Kingdom greats. Not Mikey Sheehy or Paidi O’Sé, serial All-Ireland-winning greats.
Kerry have received much praise of late, in this article no less, and much of it richly deserved, but a solitary All-Ireland in six years hardly passes mustard in Kerry. Arguably even more damaging is their streak of three consecutive losses to Dublin in the championship.
While a win on Sunday would not break this streak, it would give much of the current Kerry panel their first taste of victory over Dublin in a game of lasting significance. Fitzmaurice and the people of Kerry will be hoping they develop a taste for it.
Colm Egan, Pundit Arena
Read More About: 2014 all ireland football championship, Allianz Football League, bryan sheehan, colm cooper, dublin gaa, eamonn fitzmaurice, gaa news, gaelic football news, irish sport, jack mccaffrey, james mccarthy, kerry gaa, kieran donaghy, roscommon, Stephen cluxton